Genetic counseling program welcomes inaugural class

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The USF College of Public Health officially welcomed its first class of students in the genetic counseling MSPH program this semester.

The program is the first and only fully-accredited genetic counseling training program in the state and was established to meet the critical demand for certified genetic counselors in Florida, building graduate-level education in human genetics and genomics at USF.

The inaugural class consists of four students selected out of more than 100 applicants.

“Admissions across the country are highly competitive for genetic counseling training programs,” said Dr. Deborah Cragun, program director and assistant professor in the Department of Global Health. “We were extremely impressed by the number and quality of this year’s applicants. We couldn’t be more thrilled with our incoming students.”

Cragun said students of the program will be prepared to practice in multiple areas including cancer genetic counseling, prenatal counseling, pediatric counseling and newer specialties that are arising due to advances in genomics and precision medicine.

The USF COPH’s inaugural students include:

Deanna Almanza is a COPH alumni with an MPH in epidemiology. After graduating in 2016 she accepted a job at Moffitt Cancer Center where she was first introduced to genetic counseling. “The program provides the perfect setting for me to learn about a profession I am passionate about while using and enhancing my epidemiological and public health training,” Almanza said. “Tampa is my home and I am excited to learn about genetics in this context. I cannot wait to put the training into practice and give back to my hometown.”

Joy Kechik is a Florida resident from Melbourne. She graduated from Purdue University in 2014 with a BS in genetics. She said she hopes that a degree in genetic counseling from USF will enable her to help families dealing with genetic conditions and expand her knowledge in the fields of genetics and public health. “Florida is extremely underserved in the area of genetics. In fact, Brevard County, where I live, has no genetic counselors at all,” Kechik said.  “I am eager to have the opportunity to learn in-state from talented, enthusiastic faculty, and to utilize my genetic counseling training to serve other Florida residents.”

Réka Müller moved to the U.S. from Hungary to attend Auburn University where she was a varsity tennis player. She said she became interested in genetic counseling after getting involved with genetics research. She said genetic counseling will allow her to combine her interests in both genetics and counseling. “By becoming a prenatal or pediatric genetic counselor, I hope to help parents make informed decisions and deal with difficult situations they may face,” Müller said.

Lindsey Victoria earned her BS in biology from Florida Gulf Coast University. She said she decided to pursue genetic counseling after a powerful experience she had volunteering in an education center for children with Down syndrome. She was drawn to USF’s program because of the emphasis on research and public health. “As a Florida resident, I am excited that USF is taking the first step in addressing the significant lack of genetic counselors in the state and I am very glad to part of the inaugural class,” Victoria said.

“Florida has far fewer genetic counselors per capita than any of the other ten most populous states and Florida is the last of these states to begin a genetic counseling program,” said Dr. Michael White, technology director of the program.

According to Dr. Kathleen Pope, the medical director for the program, the accreditation of USF’s program and the selection of the inaugural class are huge milestones in addressing the critical demand for genetic counselors in Florida.

“As a growing profession in high demand, there are a number of genetic counseling positions in Tampa and across Florida that have remained unfilled,” Pope said. “We are very excited to take the critical first step in addressing the demand.”

The USF COPH genetic counseling program is a 42-credit graduate degree (21 months), accredited by the Accreditation Council for Genetic Counseling, with estimated total tuition costs for Florida state residents of $19,000.

The program is open to students with a bachelor’s degree in any major; however, a few key undergraduate courses are required to apply. For more information about the program and application requirements please visit the program’s web page.

The COPH will also host an open house for anyone interested in learning more about the field of genetic counseling and the new MSPH program on Monday, October 2, at 6:15 p.m. in room 302 of the Interdisciplinary Research Building (IDRB) located at 3720 Spectrum Blvd., Tampa, FL 33612.

Anyone interested in attending this year’s open house should contact geneticcounseling@health.usf.edu to register and obtain a parking permit.

 

Story by Ashley Souza, USF College of Public Health

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